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Wistfully, Crist hands over the reins to Scott

TALLAHASSEE — For the incoming governor, inauguration day is exciting.

For the outgoing one, it's like watching your own funeral.

7 a.m. Tuesday: Rick Scott leaves the Governor's Mansion, where he has spent the night.

Charlie Crist sits on a 19-seat Continental Airlines puddle-jumper from Tampa to Tallahassee, reading the paper.

In front of him is Tony Collins, a PR man from Tampa, and Stuart Rogel, with the Tampa Bay Partnership.

They're flying to see Scott.

So is Crist, who spent most of his last week as governor in his hometown of St. Petersburg. He has been talking about practicing law and guest lecturing at Stetson University College of Law.

Dressed in a dark suit and red striped tie, Crist strikes up a conversation with a man sitting in the plane by saying, "Nice jacket." It's a fleece for a local circus.

"We're going up for the inauguration," the man says. "We're in the parade."

Crist isn't.

9:09 a.m.: Scott listens to his brother, Stephen, sing God Bless America at a prayer breakfast.

Crist has arrived in Tallahassee. Without a place to go, or appointments to keep, he settles into a table at a bagel shop a mile from the Capitol.

Next to him is Mike Burns, one of his close aides. Across the table is Shane Strum, his chief of staff.

The three talk over coffee, about who's leaving the governor's office and who's staying. A group from the Florida National Guard drives by, towing the cannons that will fire when Crist is out of office and Scott is in.

A customer walks by Crist and puts her arm on his shoulder.

"I miss you already," she says.

"You miss me already?" he asks. "I miss you already."

9:40 a.m.: Scott heads to the governor's office.

Crist heads to Borders.

Scott has asked to meet with Crist before the swearing-in ceremony and Crist wants to take Scott a book.

His choice: Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America, the classic 19th century treatise by a young Frenchman.

Crist inscribes the front page in a blue Sharpie, "Enjoy this book about our great country! All the best. Charlie Crist. 1.4.11"

10:19 a.m.: Scott waits in the governor's office while his wife, Ann, fidgets with a pin on her purple sweater. The head of Scott's transition, Enu Mainigi, juggles two phones.

On his way to see Scott, Crist runs into Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp. The two — who hardly spoke during the campaign season — spend a couple of seconds together.

Crist presses on toward what used to be his office.

He's intercepted in the doorway by Scott.

"Governor," says Scott.

"Governor," responds Crist.

They talk for more than five minutes as Scott's mother, wife and family sit nearby. As Crist goes to leave, someone introduces him as "Gov. Crist."

"For another minute or two," he laughs.

10:43 a.m.: Scott gets a final briefing before walking to the Old Capitol for the swearing-in. Former Govs. Jeb Bush, Bob Martinez and Claude Kirk and others are waiting in holding rooms.

Crist, in a conference room, pulls out a checkbook from a black suitcase that still sports a "Charlie Crist for Senate" sticker.

He writes a check to pay for gifts he received as governor and now wants to keep. David Mica Jr., a Crist aide, runs down the agenda for the ceremony.

Crist will be one of the last to take his seat on the dais.

Scott's mother, Esther, will be on his left, Kottkamp on his right. At one point, he'll present a version of the state seal to Scott.

"Is he ready?" Strum asks Crist, changing the subject to Scott.

"I think so. I hope so," Crist says.

Crist takes a deep breath and looks around the conference room.

Feel different?

"Sure. Every day feels different," Crist says.

10:50 a.m.: Scott is still in his office, waiting for everyone to reach their places.

Crist walks out of the governor's office, past the office of the attorney general, an office he also once occupied, and into a courtyard.

He stops to take pictures and smiles and waves at friends. He points at them, and they point back as he makes the short walk to the Old Capitol.

Inside, he is ushered to a second-floor hallway.

He waits as a row of dignitaries pass to take their seats on the dais.

Kirk and Martinez walk by, exchanging handshakes with Crist.

Next comes Bush, who said this about Crist during Crist's failed Senate campaign: "Gov. Crist organizes his life around his personal ambitions. . . . He doesn't have a set of guiding principles to share with people."

The two shake hands and make small talk.

Then comes outgoing U.S. Sen. George LeMieux, the man Crist appointed. Also the man who said this about Crist leaving the Republican Party: "Our friendship runs deep, but my commitment to the principles of the Republican Party runs deeper."

LeMieux and Crist hug and talk quietly.

Noon: Scott is sworn in as governor, hugs his family and waves to the large crowd.

Crist stands and claps near the end of the front row.

When the crowd sits, Scott begins his inaugural address.

"Gov. Crist, thank you very much," he says. "Gov. Crist could not have been more gracious during this transition period, and thank you very much."

12:23 p.m.: Scott walks off the dais with his family and returns to the Old Capitol.

Crist waits to meet Scott one last time. They shake hands.

"Outstanding speech," Crist says. "Outstanding. You'll do great."

After some brief words to reporters — "I'm not in a position to be giving (Scott) advice," and "I just wish him the very best" — Crist walks to a dark parking garage under the Capitol and hops in an SUV.

The car spirals up the ramp into the Tallahassee sun.

Aaron Sharockman can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2273.

Wistfully, Crist hands over the reins to Scott 01/04/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 5, 2011 10:41am]
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